India will start as favourites to wrap up the series after South Africa’s pace spearhead Dale Steyn was sidelined again for the third Test which starts in Nagpur on Wednesday.
India lead the four-match series 1-0 after winning the first Test in Mohali inside three days before rain washed out the last four days of the drawn second match in Bangalore.
With another dry, spin-friendly pitch laid at the VCA stadium on the outskirts of Nagpur, the top-ranked Proteas are in real danger of losing their nine-year unbeaten series record on foreign soil.
South African captain Hashim Amla confirmed that Steyn will not take field, saying his premier fast bowler had not recovered from the groin strain he suffered in Mohali.
“Not having Dale in the team is a setback because not having the services of the best bowler in the world is never a nice thing,” he said. “But we’ve got to deal with it and, hopefully, the guys who play will get a chance to stand out.”
When South Africa played a Test in Nagpur in 2010, Steyn picked up a 10-wicket haul, including a career-best 7-57 in the first innings, to fashion his team’s emphatic win by an innings and six runs.
Indian captain Virat Kohli, however, insisted Steyn’s absence will not make a difference to his team’s prospects.
“We have faced him enough times in the past and we have scored enough runs against him,” he said. “We treat every bowler the same way. Someone else might step up, so you can’t take anyone lightly.”
– “Hopefully runs will come” -Amla’s own poor form with the bat will worry the tourists after he made 43 and 0 in the first Test and seven in the rain-ruined second game in Bangalore.
“I definitely would have liked to have got more runs in the series,” said Amla, who hit an unbeaten 253, the second highest of his 23 three-figure knocks in Test cricket, in Nagpur five years ago.
“Hopefully, the runs are still to come. We’ve got two big Test matches to deal with.”
South Africa have been let down so far by their inability to cope with India’s spin twins, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who have equally shared 24 of the 30 wickets to fall in three innings so far.
“We have not played our best cricket,” Amla said as the tourists limped to 184 and 109 in Mohali and made 214 on the first day at Bangalore.
– “Not pleasant to face our spinners” -Kohli said he was relieved at not having to face his own spinners, Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra, who have wreaked havoc with the South African batting.
“If I was playing against them, I would find it really difficult to score off them,” he said. “I am sure it is not pleasant facing the three of them.”
Kohli insisted too much was being made of the dry, brown pitch that will aid spin as the match goes on.
“I don’t know why there is so much of hue and cry about wickets in India,” he said. “We have absolutely no problem in playing on wickets given to us.”
Amla, asked about the pitch, said: “It looks like a good cricket wicket, one that we kind of expect in the sub-continent.”
The South African captain said his team’s dream of winning the series was not over yet, but they still needed to win at Nagpur to set up the decider in Delhi from December 3.
“It’s a must-win game for us if we are to win the series,” he said. “The issue has been more with the lack of runs than the lack of wickets. Hopefully, we’ll get the runs too.”